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Revising WildeSociety and Subversion in the Plays of Oscar Wilde$
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Sos Eltis

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780198121831

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198121831.001.0001

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The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

(p.170) 6 The Importance of Being Earnest
Revising Wilde

Sos Eltis

Oxford University Press

Of all Oscar Wilde's plays, The Importance of Being Earnest is the most frivolous, most capricious, and most uniquely Wildean. It is a farce, perfectly crafted and constantly amusing. Its action has been removed from reality to the comic world where the improbable always happens, and where even the manservant and the governess are unfailing epigrammatists. The dialogue is so perfectly orchestrated, so delightfully void of rational argument, as to be the dramatic equivalent of music. Wilde's farce offered impeccable credentials to its contemporary audience for, like its successful predecessor Lady Windermere's Fan, it was produced by George Alexander at the St. James's Theatre. Under Alexander's management, the St. James's had become one of the most fashionable theatres in the West End, its dramatic fare treading the careful line between the correct and the risky. The Importance of Being Earnest challenged society's values, reversed its conclusions, eschewed its responsibilities, and introduced the comic note of anarchy. Contemporary reviewers greeted The Importance of Being Earnest as comedy unadulterated by sense.

Keywords:   George Alexander, Oscar Wilde, farce, epigrammatists, St. James's Theatre, anarchy, comedy

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